Knocking on NATO: Strategic and institutional challenges risk the future of Europe’s seven-decade long cold peace


  • Anessa Kimball



Abstract: Despite its strong role in providing the public good of European stability by the provision of collective defence and security via an exclusive club, NATO faces challenges as it enters its next decade of survival. NATO’s unique institutional structure permits a variety of cooperative schemes to produce the club’s goods depending on how individual contributions aggregate to provide the good as well as the qualities associated with the publicness of the good (i.e. rivalry and excludability). NATO partners use both threshold and joint product structures to manage partner heterogeneities regarding capacity and willingness. NATO continues to face strategic challenges from Russia in a variety of domains (defence, economic, political) requiring continued partner collaboration to address threats ranging from cybersecurity and media manipulation to both overt and covert military pressures. Managing the insecurities from Russia require complex interdependence and partners in its limitroph regions sought reassurance through troop deployments both sinking costs and tying hands for partners. The U.S. under a Trump administration has sent increasingly noisy signals of the credibility of its commitment to Article V leading to institutional uncertainty compounded by the unknown effects of Brexit on political aspects and defence burden-sharing. Given the conjunction of strategic insecurities and institutional uncertainties, it is convenient to knock on NATO but rational institutionalist theory offers more optimism about its future. Data indicate enlargement permitted several partners, particularly Germany and the U.K., to shift the burden of supporting NATO to both new partners and existing partners such as Turkey, Spain, France, and Canada. Moreover, any alternative to NATO is more costly for less endowed partners facing defence pressures increasing their willingness to accept the burden to tune of doubling down the commitments made by the Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic since joining. Canada’s role as a broker of compromise and its willingness to make credible its defence commitments will place it in the middle of future missions regardless of domestic politics. Canada’s leadership in reassuring and socialising new partners in the Baltics deployment offers another opportunity to retain its objective and subjective position as a key partner and ally.






Briefing Papers